While New York is watching Marina Abramovic performance retreads at MoMA, exciting new performances stole the First Friday shows along Frankford Ave. and environs. Suddenly I felt that I was not only on the hippest street in town, but on the hippest street anywhere! And if you want to know where art is going at this moment in time, this is the answer.
What has me so excited is performances at Extra Extra that have the hallmarks of what contemporary art is all about these days–failure of society to overcome its problems, failure of faith in some kind of transcendent perfectability–or so much faith that it can only be dashed as it confronts reality.
Extra Extra‘s show hits the mark with its show, called Failure to Show.
Tip top was a performance by Jong Kyu, described in the evening’s program as Jong Kyu becomes Keanu Reeves in Me You and Keanu. As a clip from the Matrix played on a television screen (the middle one of a stack of three, the other two filled with colored static/snow), Jong Kyu, dressed in black, shadowed in the gallery space Reeves’ actions playing Neo. The attempt to merge with Reeves is destined for failure–given the movie’s special effects and its use of stunt men and the nature of nature. But in truth, Jong plays his part with charm, with a Chaplin-esque sad-sack comic diffidence. He does this with great energy, great enthusiasm, and a mix of awkwardness and grace. In the end, he remains Jong, not Neo and not Reeves. But he earned a standing O for his efforts.
In this performance, Jong captures the failings of the entire culture that adulates and turns our pop heroes into gods whom we pathetically worship and try to emulate. But what human can fulfill those Hollywood-manufactured personas? I think of how sad MIchael Jackson was in his attempt to be some impossible ideal. What a grandiose failure to have failed to notice how perfect he was in the first place!
Using a similar strategy–imitating an iconic filmed performance–Leslie Rogers imitated Sofia Tsola‘s world famous trapeze routine, projected on the wall behind her. Tsola is a beauty in a bodystocking with strategically placed floral arabesques. She is also an accomplished trapeze artist with loads of glamour and seductive tease.
Rogers–unlike Jong, who presented himself as a passionate imitator–immediately tipped her hand by performing in a body suit altered to to transform her woman’s body into that of a naked middle-aged man. The flesh-toned suit is comic–pure Walter Mitty. The outfit includes padding for shoulder muscles and a paunch. It also includes tufts of hair–comic strands of yarn–in all the right places, including a horseshoe fringe around a bald head. The cherry sewn-on nipples, and the droopy penis and balls add a dramatic touch. Occasionally, the genitalia and the trapeze get in each other’s way and Rogers had to disentangle them.
Rogers didn’t make too much of an attempt to get Tsola’s routine right. But she good-naturedly went through the motions. The tour de force is more the costume and the failed cross-dressing than the trapeze act. And both the performance and the costume acknowledge the impossibility of the tasks at hand. This performance, too, seemed on-target-contemporary, with its DIY crafty costume and its exuberant clunkiness. It’s a very different sort of act than Abramovic offers (she takes herself and her beauty so seriously and is seriously out of touch with the current zeitgiest) or than Chris Burden offered back in the hey-day of hippie-era performances, when shooting oneself was heroic as opposed to a sign of failure.
Other performances at Extra Extra also hit the mark by failing to hit the mark on purpose. Beth Heinly failed to evoke the music she was tapping out on a table. Behind her own personal version of a piano bar–a folding card table–she posted a sign offering to take requests. But I put in a request and she could not fill it. She said she didn’t even know the music she was playing let alone the Beatles song I suggested (I am the walrus). She said she didn’t know much music at all. I was not the only one she frustrated with what seemed like a sincere rejection. Ha! She’s not to be trusted. (Heinly, by the way, works for artblog, by way of full disclosure).
Brian Wallace’s The Immenent Glitch: A Techgnostic Deconstruction of Failure begins by failing to spell Immanent correctly. Wallace connected to the gallery from Chicago (that was the story anyway) via Skype–a connection that was a partial failure, with pixillated interruptions and pauses. At once point, he had to overcome Skype failure by using a cell phone to converse with his brother, Extra Extra dude Daniel Wallace, in the gallery. Projected on the wall from a laptop computer, Brian delivered a talk on the ontological failure of technology that was itself an ontological failure of technology.
Other pieces in the show were Derek Frech’s The Artist is Not Present; Bob Myaing’s imnotbobmyaing, Scott Ache’s Bound to the floor, and Brendan Sullivan’s See, Saw / or A Performance About Expectations and the Strangeness of Performing For Others (I missed this last one).
Whether it’s Myaing’s chat-room failure or performance failure, this show hit the mark as a reflection of a culture with lowered expectation, a culture that adulates our pop-culture heroes, turning them into gods whom we pathetically try to emulate. The show also hit the mark in reflectiing a culture that believes beyond all reason in technology which is only as good as people who can never make the grade as machines.
The same themes were playing up and down Frankford Ave. At Vwvoffka, 2037 Frankford Ave., a new gallery from Masha Badinter, Benjamin Contois and Jenna Wilchinsky, the Dear Diary show calls up an elusive, idealized past.
Alex Gartelmann made a free-standing screen door that is a recreation of one his father built for the house where Alex grew up. His cutout sign reads Everything I see is beautiful, but it all breaks my heart. The message is projected on the wall in multiple images that suggest loss and immateriality.
The house sculpture in the window by Deirde Burns is out of a fairy tale. I don’t know who else was in the show, but as soon as I get the names I will add them. We are sorry that Gartelmann is leaving town, but congratulations on getting into the Chicago Art Institute. Other work in the show includes sketches from Jennifer Hallden-Abberton (love the way these were hung), plus work by Badinter and by Catherine Mulligan. Hope next outing they get it together to label the work!
A couple of doors down at Part Time Studios, Adam Smith’s cartoony paintings in his show Bleed Blue have Barry McGee sad-sack eyes and messages of inadequacy. The price was right on the works on paper!
And up the street a few more blocks, at Piranha Betty’s Art Market, a venue that is more like an ongoing crafts market, nostalgia for a better time is expressed in a Twin Peaks art show. The cult classic TV show from David Lynch inspired some classic bits of art there, not to mention a pie-tasting contest and piles of doughnuts. I bumped into Joy Peyton, who suggested pie #6, peach, was the one to try. Someone else suggested #8, nuts and chocolate. But the line was too long.
This inaccessible scene from David Lynch’s warped imagination is presented through a peephole structure that bears comparison to Gartelmann’s nostalgic home in the window at Vwvoffka. They’re both after remembrance of other times and places.
And here’s my nephew Shawn Dubin dressed as Cooper, holding a portrait he did of Kyle McLachlan’s Agt. Cooper in the show. Shawn is indeed his own work of art, if you ask me, and has been for a long time. He’s also a great illustrator and tattoo artist (at Moo Tattoo on South Street).
Here’s a painting he did that’s also on display at Piranha Betty’s. Betty’s had no labels on the work, so I don’t know who did any of the things I saw, including some nice drawings of the characters from the show.
Failure and an idealized past or an idealized old TV show may be what the art is saying, but there’s something successful going on along Frankford Avenue. Suddenly there’s critical mass, enough to bolster the original group of galleries that set up shop there. The whole enterprise, with this new, edgy group, feels a lot like the future to me.